President Obama’s moves to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba will benefit Houston — though just how much will depend on the incoming Congress.
The immediate winner from the change in U.S. Cuba policy will be the travel industry. The lifting of travel restrictions could soon lead to an increase in direct flights between Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport and José Martí International Airport in Havana.
“The principal obstacle that still remains, though, is the U.S. Congress,” says Mark Jones, Joseph. D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, “and in particular the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which maintains the U.S. embargo on exports to Cuba, with some exceptions, as well as places serious restrictions on the ability of different ships to use ports in Cuba and then come to the United States.”
Were the embargo fully lifted, Jones says Houston would likely become the main U.S. port for shipping Midwestern agricultural products to Cuba, while Houston-based energy-services firms could compete to help develop oil and gas fields in Cuban waters.
Several legislators, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, are already condemning the White House move to normalize relations, suggesting a repeal of the embargo is likely to face stiff resistance.